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The Other Side of Down Syndrome

The Other Side of Down Syndrome
By: CWALAC Staff - 11/23/2005

Editor’s Note: The Washington Post published “One Woman’s Choice” by Maria Eftimiades on November 15, in which the author details her decision to abort her unborn child who has been diagnosed with Down syndrome. She writes:

While I have no doubt there can be joys and victories in raising a mentally handicapped child, for me and for Mike, it’s a painful journey that we believe is better not taken. To know now that our son would be retarded, perhaps profoundly, gives us the choice of not continuing the pregnancy. We don’t want a life like that for our child, and the added worry that we wouldn’t be around long enough to care for him throughout his life.

To read the entire article, click here.

Following the publication of “One Woman’s Choice,” Concerned Women for America board member Lori Scheck wrote an article showing the other side of the story. Lori and her husband are parents to 13-year-old Stephen, who has Down syndrome. The Washington Post declined to publish her response, but you can read it here:

A Normal Life
By Lori Scheck

The morning is as hectic as ever. I am scrambling eggs and warming one of last night’s dinner rolls for my son’s breakfast. He is getting his shoes and socks on. It isn’t easy because he would rather be playing his video game. We have to be ready for school early this morning so we can review words for his spelling test one last time. After I help him clean his glasses (because he has a much higher tolerance level for smudge than I do) and comb his hair (because I happen to believe that a part should actually look like a straight line) he grabs his backpack, his snack and his water bottle, and rushes out to catch the school bus. My son is Stephen. He is 13 years old, he attends a local middle school and he has Down syndrome.

Stephen is the last of my husband’s and my four children, the first three being what we would consider “normal.” Having gone through the infant, toddler, elementary and middle school stages with our first three children, we had a pretty good idea of what they entail. What we experienced with our special needs child was very much the same as the first three. We laughed at his first smile and first giggles. He crawled like a GI Joe Army man for the longest time. We celebrated his first steps, first words, and first day in preschool. Yes, we had to wait longer for those accomplishments to come to pass, but they all did. In fact, the waiting made the accomplishment cause for greater celebration than with the first three kids. We learned to enjoy every little thing in his life. Our life with Stephen has been much more normal than it has been “special.”

I was 33 when Stephen was born, not yet the age where a mom is considered high risk for giving birth to a child with Down syndrome. Because I had enjoyed three healthy, successful pregnancies before, I had no doubt that this one would be the same. Thirteen years ago the AFP blood test, which is given early in the second trimester to try to discern the presence of birth defects, was fairly new and I did not know a lot about it. When offered the test I refused as I knew that, regardless of the outcome, I would continue the pregnancy and bring this child into the world. It wasn’t until after Stephen was born that the suggestion that our new baby had a disability was even presented to my husband and me. I was glad to have it that way. It removed pre-birth anxiety from my experience. It also allowed me to cope with the diagnosis as I cradled a beautiful baby in my arms much easier than trying to cradle a test result and sonogram picture.

Our family has learned much from having Stephen in our world. Not only did we learn various terminologies and developmental strategies, we learned a lot about ourselves. If our kids are smart or beautiful, athletic or talented in some way, we tend to feel this enormous sense of pride–as though we had anything at all to do with them having those characteristics. The converse is true as well. If they are retarded or handicapped or in some way don’t measure up to the standard of our culture, then we feel embarrassment or shame. Both thoughts are ridiculous. Our children’s talents, abilities or disabilities are gifts from God. We have no control over such things. We do, however, have control over our attitude and response to these circumstances.

Our culture has created an environment where it’s okay to abort a child if he or she, for some reason, will not “measure up,” or will be hard to care for. Who sets the standard for whether or not someone is worth bringing into the world? I’ll be the first to tell you that special needs children are not the only ones who are hard work and sometimes bring frustration. My older children have done their fair share of that as well. All children, normal, handicapped, able and disabled, can be a source of joy and pride as well as heartache and frustration.

The medical profession is not a fortune teller. It cannot guarantee a child’s future outcome. Doctors may be able to tell you about the baby’s genetic code, but they cannot determine his character or happiness quotient. I wonder if the parents of young people who shoot their classmates at school would have chosen abortion if they could have known about their child’s outcome in advance. That’s part of the adventure of parenting. There are no guarantees.

When I hear about people who have aborted such a child because they didn’t want him to have to “live a life like that,” I am incredulous. How someone comes to the conclusion that not allowing a child to live at all is somehow better than living as a special needs child is beyond comprehension. Aborting a disabled child removes the option of looking at the glass as half empty or half full. Abortion takes the glass and heaves it over the side of a cliff while the pieces shatter on the rocks below. While it may eliminate the disappointment, sorrow and frustration, it also eliminates the hope, joy and pride of accomplishment that child can bring. What a travesty. What arrogance. What right do we have to destroy that little person because he doesn’t measure up to someone’s standard? If the choice were left up to the child, I am confident he or she would choose life. I know my son would.

Lori Scheck is the daughter of Beverly LaHaye, CWA’s founder and chairman.

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